Beta Radio with their music create a rippling effect of feeling, the details in each sound and lyric of the music is both deep and relateable. In their March Tour the band cultivated this effect of feeling flawlessly in their stage design. On my night in New York I was seated and saw a stage filled with three Ear Trumpet Lab Microphones, as well as a back table with antique lambs on it that brought flashbacks to my grandmothers house. The arrangement was perfect and Benjamin Mabry of the band described it’s inspiration in our interview with “So we would do house shows and we realized that there’s a real intimacy that can’t really be translated into a venue from a house show. There is something that you aren’t going to experience unless you go to a house.”
Kicking off the set with their song ‘Sitting Room’ it felt as though Beta Radio transported a room of people to a beautiful living room where none of us were strangers. There was a part of the show where Benjamin was on stage talking about the magic of a living room show, then he asked us all to close our eyes and picture a living room he described – to my surprise it was already close to the picture in my mind. The recreation of the living room brought some of the same magic Beta Radio described it would. As the night went on and songs like Kilamanjaro, Our Remains, Realistic City Living, and Either Way took over the room and it was beautiful.
Many of their songs involve searching of which in our interview Benjamin said “I think anytime I can hear anyone searching for something in a song then I immediately identify with it” for all the people in Joe’s Pub for this concert that were searching for something the music of Beta Radio gave you the impression that at least in that moment or space of time you found it. Songs that allow you to feel found, as well as gain a new impression each time you listen is what you will get from the folk/americana the brilliant duo of Beta Radio create.
Check out more from our full interview transcript below where we talk about feeling known through music, the new ‘Ancient Transition’ record, finding their sound, and much more.
We are rolling… I am here with Beta Radio. Can I get you guys to introduce yourself so I can tell you apart when I transcribe it?
Benjamin Mabry: Okay Yeah, I’m Benjamin Mabry.
Brent Holloman: And I’m Brent Holloman
It is really cool to be with you guys. I have had a goal the last three years to go on a road trip every month. So I’ve done that, and each trip I make a playlist for and Beta Radio has been on so many of those playlists. So I’m excited to be here. You have your new album ‘Ancient Transition’ and I read that Benjamin you said “I’d love for listeners of the album to walk away feeling known.” So I wanted to ask what music has made you two feel known when you listen to it?
Benjamin: For me it is most of the music by Sufjan Stevens, and the record by Father John Misty called ‘Pure Comedy’ and I haven’t listened to that one a lot. But I’ve probably listened to it three or four times all the way through and it was like…like somewhat of a religious experience. But um and then probably in terms of older stuff like some Paul Simon songs and then yeah.
Brent: I was actually just looking up the name of the album there is one album “A Noonday Dream’ by Ben Howard it is phenomenal! I get lost in it every time. That album in particular just hit me in a way that is rare. That one and there is one other one just recently – and i’m sure there’s a lot more than this but as of recently that one and Damien Jurado’s new one. Those two albums are like a soundtrack of the last year.
And what is the approach? With wanting to feel known what is the approach you took to making this album?
Brent: I think for me I just I write until I feel something. Like I write a lot. Basically our process is if it hits me in a certain way and it hits Ben in a certain way…
Benjamin: We’ve got to trust that it’s going to hit someone else.
Brent: Yeah that is the filtering process of what gets through. Hopefully it will give to other people the same way it does to us.
Benjamin: And for me the things that make me feel known are whenever someone questions the meaning of a particular thing. Because I question the meanings of things. Like I think the last record is a lot about searching for meaning. I think anytime I can hear anyone searching for something in a song then I immediately identify with it. So I inject that sentiment and search into a lot of the songs that I write.
And how much does that searching for meaning tie into the theme of ‘Ancient Transition’ in like searching for home and belonging that has been talked about with it’s release?
Benjamin: Yeah the last record is about searching for a home in a person, or a place or ideaology and then what do you do when you don’t find it? A lot of these songs are about that and I think the more songs I write or the older I get or whatever um the more I’m becoming more comfortable with less answers and more questions. So I think there is just as much beauty in asking the questions as there is getting an answer.
So you’ve talked about your approach and creating songs to help people feel known and obviously you’re accomplishing that, I wasn’t going to ask this but you’re on a bunch of huge Spotify playlists like “Most Beautiful Songs In The World” what does something like that mean when you find out you’re added to these kinds of playlists?
Benjamin: It feels really good! We didn’t really know how to make heads or tails of it in the beginning because the first time we noticed or at least I noticed we were on a playlist we were on a tour in 2015 and it was kind of like “Oh this is really cool.” But it didn’t register how it would sort of change our lives in that it would provide…
Brent: How much impact it had. It didn’t register how much of an impact it would have.
Benjamin: Yeah the impact and sheer day to day dollars and cents of it. Making the money to get on the road, to pour more time into this, to make it a living. Um so I think it’s it’s were very just grateful really.
They don’t tell you when you’re added you just randomly find it?
Benjamin: We used to randomly find it, but now now we’ll get emails.
I was interested in you two meeting at summer camp and then getting together playing hard rock and metal music I believe the band was called Sicklefist (laughs) what was the journey finding your sound? And also your sound has been diverse in genre on each of your albums with mainly folk/americana.
Brent: I think one of the quests for our sound is to not be pigeonholed into a sound. And so it is whatever we are interested at the time, or whatever we’re inspired by. Especially with the last album we just kind of called it follow your muse of whatever grabbed our attention, grabbed our ears we just kind of filter that through what we already do and hopefully it comes out as something new.
And with that you have talked about doing a lot of experimentation and I noticed a lot of that is with the different instruments you use recording a song. Where has some of the ideas for that instrument experimentation come from?
Brent: That’s a fun word. We spend way too much time (laughs) on one little sound. All day just spinning like trying to find something or experiment with stuff and at the end of the day we might not be any further along then we were when we started. Or at the end of the week, or the end of the month.
Benjamin: Our music was described one time as shimmering Americana and I feel like that is pretty appropriate. Because the idea is that we have these regular songs like just folk songs, americana songs, but then try to put some real substantive um stuff around it to make it feel like it is something other than just a folk song. But at the core I mean the songs we’ll play tonight there’s no accompaniment, it’s just us and our guitars so it will be folk songs for us tonight.
And yes we will be seeing you tonight but I wanted to ask about the approach with this March tour you were telling me is as unplugged as possible, acoustic with guitars and banjos?
Benjamin: So we do a lot of house shows, still, and we started out doing them before we had an agent before we had a manager and before we had a label. We would just book them ourselves or people would reach out on Facebook, or we’d put something up saying we’re traveling a certain route. So we would do house shows and then we realized that there’s a real intimacy that can’t really be translated into a venue from a house show. There is something that you aren’t going to experience unless you go to a house. So with picking out these microphones and doing our stage set up the way we have we were trying to do our best to recreate a living room on a stage and to make it feel like we were all in this intimate space together and there was as little stuff between us and an audience as possible. Less Microphones, less electronics.
So I have a question I ask every interview and it is about Karaoke so I guess first does Beta Radio like karaoke? and if so what would your go-to songs be?
Benjamin: I do like karaoke! I don’t do it very often, I don’t know if I’ve got a go-to song though. It’s different every time.
Brent: Um I’m not a big fan of karaoke. I don’t like singing outside of being behind somebody singing. So I don’t really have one sorry!
No don’t apologize. That is why I have kept the question around because every time I get different answers and it is super interesting to me. I have interviewed bands that had reservations at a karaoke room for right after their show, one person said they sometimes prefer karaoke over a show, then there have been people that flat out hate it. So I find it a fun question. Thank you!
But yes I told you I love karaoke, probably because I can’t sing. So I have videos saved on the highlights section of me doing karaoke. I saved it only for me so that I can go back and watch and it’s funny, but the singing is awful. So I was thinking today – If I go back and listen to my bad voice do artists listen to their own songs. So I have to ask does Beta Radio listen to their own songs?
Benjamin: Like our own songs on Spotify? That’s funny.
Brent: (laughing) It happened today!
Benjamin: Yeah! We were listening to a radio station on Spotify and a couple of our songs came on It was S. Carey and Amanda, Brent’s wife asked “Is this weird for you guys?” and I mean I think like listening to the older records is I don’t choose to do. But this one (Ancient Transition) is so it’s still pretty new so I can still enjoy it every now and again.
Brent: I think for me it is like we write the songs that we like and the style we’re drawn to so there are some especially the newer stuff that I really still enjoy listening to. ‘On Your Horizon’ is probably one of my favorite songs on the new album. I love that song! And it’s not like that with everything but there are certain ones that hit me a certain way.
I love that. That is so interesting I’m glad I asked. And for new music is there anything we can expect?
Benjamin: We’ve got a song coming out March well I don’t know if we’re supposed to say? Oh well – we have a song coming out March 28th and it’s just a piano solo version of ‘Our Remains’ so that will be out in like a week.
Brent: And then we have some other ones in like the B side stuff from the last album and acoustic versions.
Benjamin: Yeah we’ll be releasing some B side stuff so that will be happening over probably like the next 3 at least 3, maybe 4 or 5 like alternate versions and release stuff from the last record over the next year and then at some point start doing some other new stuff.
Well seriously thank you both for your time, this was a lot of fun.
Benjamin: Yeah thank you for doing this! Where was your last road trip to?
That’s funny you asked. I went yesterday on a random roadtrip with a friend that had a work meeting in Pennsylvania so we went like 3 hours away to these small Pennsylvania towns of Forty Fort and Scranton. (laughs)
Benjamin: I love that that’s such a cool goal!